My latest novel, ‘The Lychgate,’ allowed me to indulge in writing some good, old-fashioned, last person standing survival horror. I always have a strong pull towards ‘story,’ so there had to be more meat on the bone than pure situational hi-jinks. By the time everything kicks off, the reader should feel invested in the characters and back-story. A tale that makes sense, rather than offering some weak excuse for undead corpses going on a wild killing spree as an afterthought.
The premise surrounding the book had been bouncing around in my mind (and sitting on my ideas notepad) for about a year. Lychgates have always held a distinct fascination. The variety and history behind them, adds to the enjoyment of visiting many an English church. As a long-time fan of fantasy literature and a student of folklore, the common etymology shared by a mythical ‘Lich’ creature and this familiar churchyard architecture was too good to pass up. A Lich is typically the resurrected but decayed body of a holy man, raised by devoted followers reciting their ancient incantations. Legend depicts them being master manipulators, enslaving an army of the risen dead. Both ‘Lich’ and ‘Lychgate’ come from the old English word ‘Lic,’ or corpse. Before mortuaries and refrigeration, when most people died at home, bodies would reside with a guard under the lychgate until the funeral took place. The service began at the gate and proceeded inside the church; re-emerging for burial within its consecrated boundary.
For setting, I toyed with a variety of environments. The one I kept coming back to, and which provided ample scope for isolation and subsequent wild terror (hidden from the modern world), was the South Lincolnshire Fens: Big skies, bleak landscapes, and difficult to traverse terrain thanks to criss-crossing drainage channels. Close enough to civilisation to be engaging, yet remote enough to provoke a sense of helplessness.
A creepy setting always works best when it’s an integral part of the story, rather than a tacked-on device for dramatic effect. So it was that I delved into local history, in search of characters and legends around which I could build the monster’s genesis. The British Museum features a historic, pictorial document called ‘The Guthlac Roll.’ This depicts the story of St. Guthlac, a late seventh century Mercian soldier turned monk. He resided as an anchorite on the island of Croyland, where present day Crowland sits today. Guthlac was said to have settled in an oratory formed from a barrow, with his younger sister St. Pega and a male helper called Beccelm. Pega left to found her own oratory at Peakirk, when both those sites were still islands in the previously undrained fens. After Guthlac’s death, Pega supposedly moved several items from her brother’s tomb, before his resting place was re-located. His body was re-sited a couple more times after the construction of Crowland Abbey. Roundels on ‘The Guthlac Roll’ show the saint fighting demons and driving out a demoniac. These tales offered a perfect situation around which to introduce Nechtan, a holy man of the Bilmingas tribe who comes into conflict with him. Keying aspects of Guthlac and Pega’s lives into the plot became a joy after that, and added significant breadth to the overall tale.
Parallels are always fun when spinning a yarn. With ‘The Lychgate,’ there is a foundation based on a vengeful, pagan spiritual manipulator, ousted by a new religion. He carries that offence beyond the grave, longing for retribution and power. In the modern world, several of the characters are ousted from their own comfortable lives by new ‘religions’ like political correctness, corporate profiteering, liberal orthodoxy and an obsession with metrics. It is these supplanting ideas that drive them to join life at an off-grid community. One promising to provide an antidote to the modern world and its insane doctrines. The only problem is that in literally digging up the past, they unearth an evil of significant destructive power and unfathomable malevolence. Think ‘The Mummy’ meets ‘The Evil Dead’ and you’ll have some idea what to expect.
Like my other novels, ‘The Lychgate’ is to be released in paperback and Kindle formats, from 16th December. You can pre-order the Kindle version. Its page count will correct to 347, once both products go live and are linked on Amazon.